LOPES (afterwards MASSEH LOPES), Manasseh (1755-1831), of Maristow House, nr. Plymouth, Devon.
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Family and Education
b. 27 Jan. 1755 in Jamaica, o.s. of Mordecai Rodriguez Lopes by Rebecca, da. of Manasseh Pereira of Jamaica. m. 19 Oct. 1795, Charlotte, da. of John Yeates of Mon., 1da. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1796; took name of Masseh before Lopes by royal lic. 15 Oct. 1805; cr. Bt. 1 Nov. 1805.
Sheriff, Devon 1810-11; recorder, Westbury 1810-d.
Dir. Rock Life Assurance Office.
Lt.-col. commdt. Roborough vols. 1803, 4 Devon militia 1808.
Lopes was descended from Sephardi Jews who had migrated to Jamaica and prospered as sugar planters. His father came to England and settled at Clapham, where he died in 1796 leaving Lopes an extremely wealthy man. According to Cyrus Redding, the Cornish journalist who knew him well in later years, ‘he was uneducated, or he made little use of his acquirements’. The story was that when Lopes bought the Heywood estates at Maristow in 1798, at a reputed cost of £100,000, he
asked the widow of the former possessor if there was nothing she wished to retain. She replied, nothing except a set of Classics in the library, the only set there ... Sir Massey stated at last he could not find them; and ... he would be obliged if she would come over and point them out. The lady did so. ‘Oh’ replied Sir Massey, ‘those are the books are they—I see different names on the backs, I thought I should see ‘The Classics’ upon them’.
He subscribed £5,000 to the 1797 loyalty loan, paid £500 in income tax in 1799 and considerably extended his land-holdings around Plymouth. In 1820, when he ranked in the top eight of Devon landholders, he claimed to have ‘about 32,000 acres belonging to me altogether in a ring fence’, including waste and common land.1 As an investor in East India Company stock, he was entitled to four votes for the directorate in 1795 and 1806.
Lopes was baptized in 1802 and at the general election of that year bought a seat for New Romney on the Dering interest. His name appears in none of the surviving division lists of 1803 and 1804, but he was a supporter of Pitt’s second administration, being recognized as such in the lists of September 1804 and July 1805, and voting against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805. On 27 July 1805 he asked Pitt for his ‘friendly assistance to promote my success’ in his planned candidature for Plymouth at the next general election: ‘my attachment and regard to your interest’, he went on, ‘make me more anxious of retaining a seat in Parliament’. He also reminded Pitt of a promise to press his claims to a ‘title’, which he duly received three months later in the form of a baronetcy, with remainder to his nephew Ralph Franco*. Lord Ellenborough remarked to Lord Sidmouth, 23 Oct. 1805, that the hard-pressed ministry’s ‘game of late seems to have been to pick up stragglers, and the new batch of baronets seems to have caught one at least in the person of Sir Manasseh Lopes’.2
Lopes, who voted against the ‘Talents’ on the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and was said to have quarrelled with the patron of New Romney ‘about his travelling expenses’,3 did not stand at Plymouth or anywhere else at the 1806 general election. In 1807 he contested Evesham, claiming later to have done so at the request of the Portland ministry. He gained second place but was unseated on petition for procuring illegal votes. The whole venture was said to have cost him about £10,000. Late in 1809 he was thought to be preparing himself for an attempt on Plymouth, but on 16 July 1810 he bought the borough of Westbury from the 5th Earl of Abingdon for about £75,000 and it was assumed that he would return himself for one of its seats.4 In the event he stood for the venal borough of Barnstaple on a vacancy in January 1812, but was defeated by William Busk, a London merchant with strong Whig sympathies.
At the general election of 1812 he spent enough money at Barnstaple to turn the tables on Busk. For Westbury he returned two paying guests favourable to government. He was expected to support the Liverpool administration, but on 12 Jan. 1814 he complained bitterly to the premier of ‘the total neglect and disregard’ he had experienced ‘from every department of the government for some time past’, notwithstanding his expenditure of ‘thirty thousand pounds’ in three contested elections, his provision of two seats at Westbury, and an alleged promise from Perceval ‘that I should be remunerated in anything that I desired’ to compensate for his losses at Evesham. His main grievance was Lord Melville’s failure to meet his requests for naval patronage.5 He must have been appeased, for he voted with government in ten of the 23 divisions of the 1812 Parliament for which full lists have been found. His only known hostile vote was against the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816. He voted consistently against Catholic relief and is not known to have spoken in the House during this period.
Lopes evidently cherished notions of investing some of his wealth in the establishment of a small electoral empire and proved easy prey for the mercenary electors of the more corrupt West Country boroughs. In 1816 he swallowed the bait offered by members of Grampound corporation, who were dissatisfied with the patronage of (Sir) Christopher Hawkins*, and sent down his agent, who bribed about 40 voters at £35 each. Although he subsequently made over his interest to Benjamin Shaw*, his own transactions became common knowledge in the borough and were brought to public light in the inquiry into the petition which followed the Grampound election of 1818. Lopes himself came second in a three-cornered contest at Barnstaple, where he paid his local agent just over £3,000 as reimbursement for money expended on entertainments and ‘travelling expenses’ for the out-voters, and ‘lost time’ money for the residents. A petition, alleging bribery and treating, was lodged by the defeated candidate. At the same election he financed an abortive challenge to the Duke of Northumberland’s control of Newport and also tried to stir up trouble in the duke’s neighbouring borough of Launceston, but he evidently declined an invitation to intervene at Penryn.
On 9 Mar. 1819 the Barnstaple election committee unseated Lopes for bribery. Nine days later he was found guilty at the Devon assizes on an indictment for his Grampound bribery (one of his offences having been committed in Devon), and on 24 Mar. 1819 another ‘guilty’ verdict was returned against him when the Grampound case was tried in Cornwall. On 2 Apr. the House resolved to prosecute him for bribery at Barnstaple, but when the case was heard at Devon assizes, 4 Aug., he was acquitted ‘from defect of proof’. When referred for judgment on his Grampound offences in King’s bench, 13 Nov., Lopes, despite his mitigating plea of age and infirmity, was fined a total of £10,000 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in Exeter gaol. In passing judgment Mr Justice Bayley observed that his ‘rank and consideration ... greatly aggravated his offence, and called for additional severity’.6 For all this, the House had not seen the last of him.
The inmates of Holland House were ‘disgusted by the violent sentence’ against Lopes, ‘the poor detected briber’.7 In the House, 21 Feb. 1820, Brougham complained of the severity of the sentence and hoped a degree of mercy would be extended towards him, but both James Scarlett, who had acted as Lopes’s counsel, and Lord John Russell insisted that his exemplary punishment was deserved and necessary. Lopes, who was probably as much dupe as villain in the Grampound affair, certainly made an ideal scapegoat for the campaign against indiscreet corruption. Redding wrote of him:
[He] ... was not a bad-minded man. He was only something of a miser, which those lovers of the root of evil nearly all are, who acquire large fortunes by an attention to small sums. Here his old money-making position continually drew him towards the principle of accumulation, and he forgot to keep up his existent character. In electioneering, which he did not understand, he was fleeced continually. In fact, he was more sinned against than sinning; he did not know the ‘disinterested’ qualities of agents ... Some of his doings were original in their way and contradictory. His word was his bond, once pledged.
When visiting Devon in 1809 Farington learnt that Lopes, ‘with all his peculiarities’, was ‘a good natured civil neighbour’.8
He died 26 Mar. 1831, worth an estimated £800,000, chiefly in government and East India stock.9
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Redding, 50 Years’ Recollections, 2nd ed. (1858), i. 161-2; Farington, v. 292; PRO E182/631; W. Hoskins and H. P. R. Finberg, Devon Studies, 412-13.
- 2. PRO 30/8/153, f. 65; Sidmouth mss.
- 3. Lincs. AO, Heron mss, Groom to Heron, 20 Mar. 1806.
- 4. Add. 38255, f. 362; Farington, v. 292; NMM, WYN/107, Pole Carew to Pole, 20 Nov. 1809, 24 Sept. 1810; R. Harris and R. C. Hoare, Wilts. Westbury, 6.
- 5. Add. 38255, f. 362.
- 6. See GRAMPOUND and BARNSTAPLE; CJ, lxxiv. 201, 303; Parl. Deb. xxxix. 1390-2; The Times, 22, 31 Mar., 9 Aug., 15 Nov. 1819.
- 7. Pope of Holland House ed. Lady Seymour, 208.
- 8. Redding, i. 158-9; Farington, v. 292.
- 9. Gent. Mag. (1831), i. 465.